Hardy: Religions Faith
Hardy was born in a devout Christian family. His parents were regular church-goers. His father and grandfather were church-fiddlers and as a boy he himself fiddled in the church on several occasions. All his life he attended the church regularly and, like his own Angel Clare, had the greatest possible respect for the Institution. Early in life the holy Bible was placed in his hands and repeated reading of it made it a part and parcel of his very being. His style betrays profound influence of the holy book and quotations from it abound in his works.
Hardy: Christian Virtues
The church and the Bible were the most important formative influences on Thomas Hardy. We know it from the testimony of all those who came in contact with him that, “Hardy was one of the most Christian spirits that ever lived.” He possessed all the Christian virtues —humanity, compassion, love for all life, truthfulness — to a remarkable extent. He was one of the most human persons that have ever walked on this sorry planet of ours. His best characters are all endowed with the typical Christian virtues. Tess, for example, is charitable, conscientious, pure in heart and full of the spirit of love and self-sacrifice. She could never bear to hurt a fly or a worm, and the sight of a bird in a cage often made her cry. All the tendencies of her life and character represent the finest aspects of Christianity.
Hardy: Religious Hypocrisy
Though absolutely religious in the real sense, he was never in sympathy with a false conventional morality, and could not tolerate the hypocrisy and sentimentality of many of its ministers and professional champions. He had a profound respect for the clergy of a genuine sort who, like the elder Mr. Clare, had the good of their parishioners really at heart. But he never missed an opportunity of having a dig at those servants of religion who are callous and sentimental like the clergy of Marlott —he refuses to give Tess’s child a Christian burial because it had not been properly baptised ! Nor could he tolerate the custom of painting texts from the Bible at prominent places with the idea of reforming the sinners. The episode of Tess’s meeting with the painter who paints texts like THY DAMNATION SLUMBERTH NOT is a delicious bit of satire on the practice. Similar in nature is the episode of Alec’s conversion from a leacher into a preacher. It is no conversion at all. It is merely a transformation. The inferior man lies within and springs into action at the first sight of Tess’s big black eyes and arched lips. Indeed, as W. L. Cross points out, “He (Hardy) is out of joint with the codes of conduct sanctioned by a Christian civilisation.” Arnold Kettle in his “Introduction to the English Novel” pertinently remarks — “And in the pattern of the novel (Tess) the Christian Church is seen at best a neutral observer, at worst an active abettor in the process of destruction.”
Hardy: Rejection of the Christian Concept of God
Though emotionally he remained a devout Christian all his life, intellectually he lost faith in the God of Christian theology quite early in life. He could not reconcile (he fact of suffering with the concept of a kind, benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient God. The suffering and misery that he saw everywhere in nature made him feel, again like his own Angel Clare, that
“God is not in His heaven,
Everything is wrong with the world.”
Everything is wrong with the world.”
Hardy: View of the First Cause
Under the influence of contemporary science and modern thought, he conceived of the First Cause as a force or energy working within the universe and causing it to change and grow. He used the pronoun ‘it’ and not ‘his’ for the First Cause and conceived of it as blind, unconscious and indifferent to human lot. He has referred to it by a number of names in his works. God, Nature, Chance, Fate and finally Immanent Will, are the various terms he used for the cause of things.
Hardy: Immanent Will
Thomas Hardy has developed his theory of the immanent Will forcefully and in detail in his most philosophical work, Tlie Dynasts. He has represented it as a blind worker, working ceaselessly and aimlessly. It has no sensibility, does not understand any concepts of right and wrong, pleasure and pain, and is ‘loveless’ and hatcless. It remains indifferent to human loi and from these imperfections of the first cause —the Immanent Will —arise all the ills of humanity. It is a creature of inferior moral quality and this has made human life, “a strange orchestra of victim shriek and pain.” The only hope for a suffering humanity is the gradual enlightenment of the Immanent Will. One day it may evolve consciousness and then the, “rages of the ages shall be mended.” Such a hope is held out towards the end of the Dynasts.
Hardy: Spectacle of Suffering
Thus in Hardy’s considered view, the First Cause is indifferent and unconscious. But when carried away by his indignation at the spectacle of human suffering, he shakes his fist at the unrcgcnerale cause of things and personifies it as a merciless, malicious creator, who takes pleasure in the pairs and misery of us poor morals. Expressions, like the one at the end of Tess— justice was done and the President of the immortals had ended his sport with Tess— are the outbursts of a sensitive nature at the sight of human suffering and agony.
Thomas Hardy is thus a modern in his rejection of the anthropomorphic concept of the First Cause. But he was basically a devout Christian. His genius was religious and so all his works have a deeply religious tone.